A recent study into the reasons for the disappointing usage of Australia’s two bike share schemes has confirmed what many people already know: public bike share will not work with mandatory helmet laws.
Usage rates of Brisbane’s CityCycle and the Melbourne Bike Share are terrible. This new research confirms what we have previously reported; that Brisbane and Melbourne are receiving only 5-10% of the usage we should expect of successful bike share schemes.
The authors note:
“Both schemes have approximately 0.3–0.4 trips per day per bike according to information supplied by the operators to the authors…..most other schemes internationally report usage rates of around 3–6 trips per bike per day.”
Every bike share scheme in the world except for Brisbane and Melbourne allows people to ride without helmets (which is perfectly safe). It is this compulsory helmet requirement that most people say is the main factor preventing them from using the Melbourne Bike Share, as shown in Figure 1 below.
Over 60% of respondents cite helmet restrictions as being the main reason stopping them from using bike share.
When you exclude those who claim bad weather as their main obstacle (which is surely beyond the power of any government or transport authority to influence), helmet laws become even more obviously predominant.
The study found similar reasons for the poor patronage of Brisbane CityCycle. Analysis of CityCycle was done through “focus group discussions” rather than a survey, so the results are descriptive rather than statistical. But a familiar story emerges.
The authors write:
“Participants who had not used CityCycle frequently described mandatory helmet laws as a reason for not using the scheme. Focus group participants felt the requirement to use a helmet reduced the spontaneity often associated with public bike share scheme use.”
Despite having some compelling evidence in front of them, the authors recommendations are weak and disappointing. They suggest Australian bike share needs:
- a more accessible, spontaneous sign-up process
- 24/7 opening hours
- greater incentives to sign up new members and casual users
While there is no doubt that these things are useful suggestions, they do not even come close to explaining why Brisbane and Melbourne are operating at one-tenth the usage they should be.
Melbourne Bike Share already has an instantaneous sign-up process (credit card swipe) and it doesn’t have significantly higher usage than CityCycle which has a longer, more complicated sign-up.
24-hour operation would be beneficial but it’s inconceivable that it would lead to anything more than a marginal increase in usage, certainly not the 10-fold increase that the schemes need.
Why do the authors not make any suggestions about what is clearly the main reason for the failure of Australian bike share: mandatory helmet laws? Why is there no consideration of an exemption from helmet laws for bike share users, as has been suggested by Fairfax journalist Michael O’Reilly and others in the media and community?
This seemingly strange omission becomes understandable when we note that the three authors of this study are from the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q), based at the Queensland University of Technology. CARRS-Q was the group that last year produced a publication in support of mandatory bicycle helmet legislation which was commissioned and paid for by (and included editorial input from) the Queensland government.
Given the preconceived views of it’s authors it is unsurprising that this latest research fails to suggest that it might be time to rethink our stance on compulsory helmets. This is disappointing because their own evidence clearly shows that helmet laws are the primary reason for the failure of bike share in Australia.
Added 5/4/2016: North American bike share, safer than general cycling.